If you haven’t seen “Hero,” the marvelous Chinese martial arts movie, you should do it while it is still viewable on a big screen. Last night Laurel and I marveled at the cinematography of “Hero.” You’ll see things that you’ve never seen in a movie before, and probably never will again—unless Zhang Yimou directs a sequel.
If you have an aversion to sub-titles, quash your qualms and buy a ticket anyway. Ditto if you usually stay away from martial arts flicks, because “Hero” is to the typical martial arts movie as “The Godfather” is to the typical gangster movie: in another category all together.
“Hero” is set in a time thousands of years ago before there was a unified China, just warring kingdoms. An opening subtitle reminds us that “there always are heroes on both sides,” a sentiment that is anathema to the Bush administration, but which is unarguable. Our angle of vision determines whether we see a valiant warrior or a despicable evildoer. One person can appear as many personas.
This is part of what makes “Hero” such a fascinating movie, how we never are quite sure who the heroes are. Or what their motivations are. Naturally I won’t give away the ending. I will say, though, that at the climax of the confrontation between the King of Qin and Nameless (Jet Li), an assassin of royal assassins who may or may not be who he claims to be, I was utterly ready to accept that a sword could either find or miss its target.
Rarely is the denouement of a movie so perfectly poised on a knife-edge that the viewer is not only unable to predict on which side the plotline will fall, but also is emotionally ready to embrace either of two diametrically opposed outcomes.
And then there is the magic of “Hero.” For me it wasn’t so much the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” sort of flying-slowmotion-swordplay-somersaults that was so magical (though these special effects were beautifully done), but rather the Zen focus on simple sights and sounds. Raindrops. Leaves falling. Shimmering surface of a lake.
In the movie these elements of nature share the stage with martial arts daring-do, swords slicing through raindrops, leaves, shimmering surfaces. “Hero” never fails to blend the martial and the arts. Calligraphy places a large role in the film, with Nameless studying a swordsman’s artistic style for clues about his martial prowess.
For the 96 minutes of “Hero” I was transported into a world where nature and man are magical because nothing is overlooked. Everything is just what it is, which is really magic. Not adding on complex thoughts, fantasies, imaginations, ideas, about what could be in addition to what is. A single raindrop falling on a piece of slate is magical. But only when it is just that: raindrop falling on slate.
When I’m watching the news on TV, pissed at the latest political outrage being reported, listening with much less than half an ear to the shower passing by, how can I ever hear the sound of nature’s magic? This evening I did something I should do much more often: just sit on our deck. Not sit and read the newspaper. Not sit and pat the dog. Not sit and drink a bottle of China Cola. Just sit. And see. And listen.
I was amazed. It was as if the cinematographer of “Hero” was inside my head. I was viewing the world through a magical lens. Oak branches swaying in the wind against a darkening gray sky. Water splashing in our pond. Ropes of the hanging chair I was sitting in creaking with my swaying. Every little thing was simply every little thing, no more, no less.
For a few minutes I had a glimpse of how magical the world is when I don’t try to make it magical…or anything else. When I just let the world be what it is. Not adding on anything to it. Not taking away anything from it. In that moment, magic.
Until I began to wonder how the Oregon Ducks could possibly have lost to Indiana. And at Autzen Stadium! Geez, OSU and U of O are now 0-3. I know a couple of football teams that could use some magic. Me too, now that I’ve started thinking about them.